Category Archives: Digital Perservation

Lighting Talk: Personal Digital Preservation

On April 5 my program at the University of Washington had the pleasure to host ALA president, Molly Raphael, for the day. As part of the festivities our campus ALA chapter hosted a lighting talk session with the theme of “passions into practice”. Students in both the online and residential program shared a bit of what he or she was passionate about and how that would guide his or her in professional practice.

I chose to highlight personal digital preservation, and how LAM professionals (libraries, archives, and museum) could reach out and encourage more users to participate in preserving their own digital past. Below are my slides (For those of my readers that are familiar with the Ignite format you may wonder why there are only 18 slides. I actually repeated 2 slides to get 30 seconds instead of 15 for that topic.). I have also included my notes for each which is roughly what I said during the presentation.

Today I will be speaking about personal digital preservation and how to actually get people to practice it in their homes.

We are now living our lives digitally from social media and staying in touch with family and friends to job searing with LinkedIn to our news consumption through RSS feeds. Even my schooling is done through digital means and many of my classmates both online and residential have turned to digital note taking.

Many people both inside and out of our profession whisper of a digital “dark ages” when in the future large segments of our history and culture are missing. It all disappearing into the ether.

However, I’m not willing to believe that our world will just hand over our diverse cultural bounty to a new incarnation of medieval monks and just hope and pray something survives.

Who would we trust with such a responsibility? Government agencies like the Library of Congress, a consortium of librarians (academic or public)? Or would the IT world faithfully transfer our data from hard drive to hard drive like monks transcribing manuscripts so long ago?

No, that isn’t the answer. The answer is education. We as Information Professionals need to reach out to the public and get everyone involved in preserving our new digital past.

This should be easy — in theory. Everyone wants to leave their legacy. We all think fondly of our grandma’s shoebox of photos or the lovely photo albums or scrap books that preserve family events so well. We want to be remembered.

However, as Cathy Marshall so aptly observed at the Personal Digital Archiving Conference in San Francisco this year. The person who wants to preserve digital documents for prosperity is usually not the person with the know-how.

How do we combat this problem? Two ways — we reach out to those family archivists and teach them the tech skills they need AND we reach out to the “IT” person and educate them on why they need to care about preservation.

There are already many organizations in place that reach out to the archivist in the family. The National Digital Information Infrastructure, and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) with the Library of Congress, preservation week workshops in libraries, and other public library programs all cater to this archivists demographic. There are also programs like MOHAI’s Nearby History that teaches interested citizens how to conduct academic historic research that could be adapted to focus on historic digital preservation.

Information Professionals can also reach the IT person by going to where they interact such as the recent SxSW Interactive Conference.NDIIP’s blog, The Signal, recently discussed the “hipster halo” effect that archivists encountered during the conference. Discussing digital preservation at events like SxSW reaches out to those who create digital content (photos, music,movies, etc) and gets the message out that we need to think of how we are all going keep our creative content safe.

What this all comes down to is creating a habit — making personal digital preservation as second nature as say brushing your teeth or keeping secure passwords.

Here I’m going to take another page out of the health industry’s playbook. We need to campaign nationally and not just in libraries and library circles. We need to cast a large net.

Once segment of the population we need to reach out to is lawyers especially estate lawyers. If our lawyers remind us to bay up and create metadata for our digital documents and then place them in the hands of a digital assets executor.

This is especially important when in it comes to immortal digital selves — our blogs, facebook profile, twitter account, flickr etc. Who is the custodian of our personal website? Or do we ask to take it all down? Our will can answer these questions.

Next — picture sharing websites — if these majorly popular websites start to help educate and remind users to caption, tag, and rename their picture files (and to also backup their photos locally) this can go a long way to creating a new digital “shoebox”.

Finally the tech and gadget websites. If we can get the tech community talking not just about the next new thing, but also how to save and care for our old stuff (gadget and tech guys get really nostalgic for their old gadgets too) then we can get the whole world talking about personal digital preservation.

The bottom line is we need to act NOW not when the perfect app, program, or other solution materializes. We need to create good preservation habits today.

Who else could librarians, archivists, and museum professionals partner with in a national campaign to spread awareness about preserving our digital history? Do you agree that each person should be in some way responsible or should we hand over our digital culture to a new age of “monks” to preserve?



Filed under Digital Perservation, Library School

Personal Digital Preservation: Part 2 Theory into Practice

I tried to give myself the best chance of success or the best chance to get a quick sense of accomplishment and chose a smaller collection of digital photographs to begin my project. According to the Library of Congress’s information on personal archiving, there are four suggested steps to take when working to preserve your digital photos.

1.) Identify where you have digital photos

2.) Decide which photos are most important

3.) Organize your selected photos

4.) Make copies and store them in different places

Identify where you have digital photos

This part was quite easy since I am targeting a certain folder of photos that have already been moved off of my camera’s SD card and saved onto my laptop. However, once I have worked through my backlog of photos I will need to once again look on my camera for photos that still only exist on my SD card as well as my cellphone that has probably hundreds of photos on its internal memory that I have not bothers to transfer to my laptop.

Decide which photos are the most important 

Time to get rid of all those duplicate, fuzzy, and um pointless photos. Going through this portion of the process reminded me of David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous. He rightly states that “since our cameras apply names like ‘DSC00165.jpg’ to our photos it’s easier to keep bad photos than to throw them out”. When I first read that passage I could only chuckle and nod. I am guilty of keeping more photos than I should just because comparing and then committing to deleting one of the photos is a heavy responsibility.

However, I did delete many photos from my vacation photos. I got rid of all those duplicates (with and without flash, with different white balances set, just a bit more focused or centered). I also deleted many pointless photos (if I can’t remember why I took the photo less than a year later then I really do not need to commit to keeping it forever).

Organize your selected photos

The meat of the project! As long as you do not need to pick out the best photo of a flower out of 20 possible choices, this step will most likely be the most time consuming. This step might also become somewhat repetitive. I would suggest listening to music, watching a movie, or watching a television show while you add metadata to your photos.

Time to get rid of those horrible camera created names and actually give your photos descriptive names. Now this can be accomplished in a variety of fashions depending on your personal information management style and how you personally like to name files. You can incorporate location, date, subject, or just describe what is in the photo. I went the last route since my photos will remain in a file that identifies the photos within as vacation photos from Cannon Beach, OR. My file names might not be scientific or up to library or archive standards, but I will know what the photo is and so would most anyone else.

Next it is time to add your metadata! I did not use any fancy programs. I opened my folder of photos and then went photo by photo and right clicked then selected the properties menu. Under the details tab, I could add title, subject, keywords, and comments. For my more visual learners, here is a screen shot of the metadata I added for one photo:

Properties Menu for photo

I had keywords for the place, significant objects or people in the photo, and more generic terms like “beach”. When it comes to keywords you can use as many or as few as you like. I always try to strive for a middle ground and only add keywords for the important aspects of the photo (for example if there is a food stand in the background of a photo, but obviously you and your friends are standing around a statue of some historic persona I would not add “food truck” as a keyword). In the comment section I added a more narrative  description of the photo sometimes placing the photo in context of a sequence of events that the title, subject, and keywords won’t convey otherwise.

Make copies and store them in different places

After completing all of that metadata, first give yourself a pat on the back then get all those pictures saved on different types of media pronto! What this means is to save your photos on different types of storage devices such as SD cards, flash drives, CDs, DVDs, external hard drives, in the cloud, or on a social media site such as Facebook, Flickr, or Instagram. If your photos are new you can incorporate your metadata creation into your “sharing” habits by processing your photos during the same chunk of time you would have devoted to uploading to these sites. I know my comment section reflects my captions from Facebook.

The Library of Congress also suggests keeping your copies in different locations. Maybe store a flash drive at a relative’s house or in a safety deposit box or a fire proof safe. LOC also goes as far as suggesting you keep a physical manifest of your photos with other important documents (this may help in remembering which photos are saved in what formats and where physically you have them).

Final Thoughts

Also remember every few years you need to check on your photos! You need to make sure you can still access them and that your storage devices are still working. You may also need to migrate your photos to new media. CDs as a storage media might not be around for much longer so photos saved on this media might need to be transferred to it a new media. Also make sure that your photos are saved in an open format (.jpg or .tiff). Also make sure your metadata shows up on other computers (plug your flashdrive with the folder of photos into someone else’s computer and see what shows up). In the future you may need to learn how to change the format of your photos to keep them current with file format changes.

I know this all seems like a big investment of time and energy (and in many cases money), but it will be well worth it some day when you can share these photos instead of bemoaning the hard drive crash of 2015.


Filed under Digital Archives, Digital Perservation, Project

Personal Digital Preservation: Part 1

In the library, archive, and museum professional world (the LAM world) digital preservation is a hot topic and one that I am very interested in. I have always loved viewing history from a very personal stand point. My bibliographies for my history papers in undergrad always had a diary, biography, or autobiography among my other more scholarly or pertinent sources. So even before I set my eyes on studying library science, I would sit and ponder how historians would get their hands on such personal sources in the future. I know my very boring and at times angsty high school diary only exists in LiveJournal if it is even still there. I actually have very little personal or professional writing that exists in the personal world. All of my thoughts are recorded in bits.

I know this scares the daylights out of many of my LAM brethren. I have heard whispers of a new dark ages when all of our digital documents will gone. Either we won’t be able to access them or the bits will be corrupted and irretrievable. These dire predictors then usually turn to the nearest library student and announce that “Your generation will have to figure out a solution to this situation”.

Well here I am doing my part to solve the problem. This week while I am relaxing between quarters of library school, I have decided to take a good look at what I am doing to help preserve my digital documents. I have decided to focus on my digital photos since besides being uploaded to Facebook I do very little with them. My only saving grace is that I separate groups of photos by event and do not just dump all of them into one mega photos folder.

Much of the work I have ahead of me is renaming the picture files from the automated names given by my camera to something more descriptive and then adding extra metadata. My next step is to make sure I have several copies on different types of media (the LOCKS step).This way later viewers will know where my photos were taken, why they were taken, and who are in them.

Readers, if you would like to help preserve your photos, videos, blogs, or documents for the future I would start by visiting the Library of Congress’s website devoted to personal archiving. There are also two videos put together by LOC concerning preserving digital photos that I viewed that helped to get me motivated and on the right track. The first is a bit corny, but shows the type of metadata that should be added to photos. The second video is a recording from a personal archiving day during Preservation Week 2010.

I will report back later with my experience adding metadata to my personal photo collection. Hopefully I will have tips and advice for you all. Remember if we want to save our history for the future we all need to have a hand in it. We can not just assume someone else will save it all later. We all need to have our own little digital box of photos stashed away.

Continued in Part 2 Theory into Practice –


Filed under Digital Archives, Digital Perservation, Project